As I sat on my sofa with my feet in a tall aluminum stock pot, slowly cooking with the help of a space-age kitchen device, I began to wonder, “Have I gone too far with my sous-vide?” My cat, Cortez, sauntered up to the pot, placed her paws on the edge, and looked into the watery depths, before a splash of the circulating epson salt and lavender-infused water splashed her in the nose and she sprinted away. “No,” I thought. “I haven’t taken it nearly far enough.”
In the short month that I’ve had an Anova Precision Cooker, I have been turned onto the endless possibilities of sous-vide cooking. Out of all the gadgets you could purchase in order to turn your kitchen from a pre-war depository of empty takeout containers into a futuristic science lab, the precision cooker is downright humble in its simplicity: an unassuming, slim metal rod that can be clamped onto any silver pot, engineered to move water around at a uniform temperature.
Before I got the Anova, I had only heard of a sous-vide referred to in hushed tones, the technique behind a profound egg at a farm-to-table restaurant, something French and very far away from my own ability. But once I had my own precision cooker, I realized that it was easy to sous vide anything and everything. The only limitation is my imagination—and what I can fit in a Ziploc bag or a mason jar. I went forth to document the limits of this strange new device.
Chicken or salmon is tender and full of flavor in a sous-vide bath. But what of our most underrated meat, Spam? I cut off a block and put it in a bag with olive oil, salt, anise seeds, and rosemary. The bag was fragrant to the touch. But two hours later, the Spam infused with herbal flavor didn’t have much going for it. It tasted like mildly salted Spam with a feathery rosemary note at the end. And it was a texture that brought to mind the word “damp.” Food should never be damp.
I had a bad week where I was suckered into the new-age woo woo of a celebrity cookbook that claimed that I could change my life by enjoying bone broth with every meal. While the pursuit of wellness was pretty much bunk, the sous vide, on the other hand, was a great option for simmering the bones and vegetables for 36 hours. The only caveat was that since there was “stuff” in the pot instead of in a bag, the circulator had to be checked every few hours so that it wasn’t clogged.
A bourbon old-fashioned is a three-hour process in which you mix bourbon, sugar, cherries, and orange zest together in a mason jar. The resulting drink is profoundly good, the sort of drink that hits several different notes on the tongue; smoky bourbon giving way to the tang of orange, cherries providing sweetness underneath.
I even used the sous vide as a shortcut for making a nettle infusion in three hours instead of overnight, and the herbal tincture clearly cured me of all my ills. It was a true hippie move and I felt like a real witch.
The first time I made a cake, I decided to see what it would be like in a Ziploc bag. It took three hours. Air holes popped up in the batter. I pulled the cake out of the bath, let it cool, and I took a bite: It was moist. Not moist like delicious, but moist like over-oiled, mushy, and it left a film stuck to your mouth. It was, in short, inedible. But I gave cake a second chance, looking at the online recipes of Anova genius Kate Williams, who understands how to make baking work with a sous-vide: It requires a mason jar. For the second cake attempt, I filled a mason jar with the batter. The glass floated; turning my cake into a teardrop. Despite that snafu, and a lack of pie weights, three hours later, I had a bite. Instead of the previous mush, I had a perfectly calibrated cake, the sort that leaves no crumbs and no crumble.